Zarif: British tanker must go through legal process
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday said that Britain needs to stop acting as an "accessory" to the US sanctions against his country.
"The UK must cease being an accessory to economic terrorism of the US," Zarif said on Twitter, alluding to the sanctions which were reinstated by the US after withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal.
His comments came after Iran said on Saturday it had seized a British-flagged oil tanker after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps impounded the Stena Impero on Friday for breaking "international maritime rules" in the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for around a third of the world's seaborne oil.
The vessel, carrying no cargo, is being held at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas while Iranian officials conduct an investigation. It would remain there with its 23 crew — 18 of them Indians — while the accident was investigated, Head of Ports and Maritime Organization in southern Hormuzgan Province, Allahmorad Afifipour said.
The vessel had "collided with a fishing boat on its route and, according to law, after an accident it is necessary that the cause of the accident is investigated," said Afifipour.
Following the collision, those on board the fishing boat "contacted the British vessel but didn't receive any response", so they "informed the Hormuzgan port and maritime office according to the legal procedures," Afifipour said.
Tanker tracking service Marine Traffic showed the Stena Impero had last signaled its location near the island of Larak at 9:00 p.m.
In his tweet, Zarif Iran’s seizure was meant to uphold maritime rules.
"Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int'l maritime rules," Zarif wrote. "It is Iran that guarantees the security of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz."
Zarif was making a reference to another incident two weeks ago involving a supertanker carrying Iranian crude, which was impounded by the British marines in the Strait of Gibraltar.
He also told British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a phone call on Saturday that the detained British-flagged tanker must go through a legal process because it violated maritime regulations.
The Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, is the sole outlet for exports of the vast majority of Middle Eastern oil, and Iran’s seizure of the British tanker sent oil prices sharply higher.
In London, British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt called the incident a “hostile act.” The Foreign Office summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires for an urgent meeting.
Hunt warned of "serious consequences" if the issue was not resolved quickly.
Hunt said London’s reaction to Friday’s tanker seizure would be “considered but robust”, and it would ensure the safety of its shipping.
He accused Iran of a tit-for-tat response after the seizure of the Grace 1 tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar at the mouth of the Mediterranean on July 4 on allegations of breaching EU sanctions against Syria.
“Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior after Gibraltar’s legal detention of oil bound for Syria,” Hunt said on Twitter on Saturday.
But he told Sky News that "we're not looking at military options, we are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation."
London on Saturday warned British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz for "an interim period."
Since British Royal Marines abseiled from a helicopter to seize the Grace 1, a number of Iranian officials had threatened to retaliate. Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Tuesday called the British action “piracy”, saying Iran would not the seizure to go unanswered.
Iran’s seizure came hours after a court in Gibraltar said it would extend by 30 days the detention of the Grace 1.
France and Germany joined Britain in condemning the seizure.
The three big European countries are signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that Washington undermined by quitting last year.
“We have learned with great concern of the seizure of a British vessel by Iranian forces,” France’s Foreign Ministry said.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said further escalation of regional tensions “would be very dangerous (and)... undermine all ongoing efforts to find a way out of the current crisis.”
US President Donald Trump said on Friday he would talk to Britain about the seizure.
Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for lifting sanctions. The European countries opposed the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the agreement last year, but have so far failed to fulfill promises to Iran of providing alternative means for it to access world trade.
In New Delhi, India’s Foreign Ministry said it was actively seeking the release of its nationals among the crew.
The vessel had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait.
Reuters and AFP contributed to this story.